Birmingham Prison: Inspection reveals ‘zombie warzone’

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HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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Inspectors at Birmingham Prison found smashed windows and jagged glass

Inmates at troubled Birmingham Prison were “walking around like zombies, high on Spice” in an environment likened to a warzone, inspectors have said.

More details have been revealed about the “appalling” conditions uncovered at the jail this summer, which led to the government taking it over from G4S.

Just 12 of 70 recommendations made by inspectors in 2017 had been met when they returned unannounced in July.

G4S said it continued to work with the Ministry of Justice.

Inspectors said they found “drug taking was barely concealed” at the category B jail, where three “likely” drug-related deaths had occurred since the last inspection.

Spice, a former “legal high”, and other similar drug compounds have been previously highlighted as being available in the prison.

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HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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Inmates left graffiti on cell walls

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HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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Inspectors found a cell with live electric wires being used by inmates to operate the lights

“We witnessed many prisoners under the influence of drugs and some openly using and trafficking drugs around the prison,” inspectors reported.

“Incidents involving new psychoactive substances (NPS) were routine and we often smelt cannabis on the wings.

“Shockingly, staff were too often ambivalent and accepting of such incidents.”

The deaths are still under investigation by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

Other findings:

  • The prison was “exceptionally violent and fundamentally unsafe”, with many prisoners and staff living and working in fear
  • Many frightened and vulnerable prisoners deliberately isolated themselves in locked cells but had urine and faeces thrown through their door panels
  • Inmates could behave badly “with near impunity”
  • Many prisoners lived in “squalor and little was done to adequately occupy them, leaving many simply to mill around on wings”
  • The prison was “failing in its responsibility to protect the public by preparing prisoners adequately for release, including hundreds of sex offenders”

Following the government takeover, a new governor was appointed, 300 prisoners were removed and 30 extra staff were drafted in.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke called for an independent assessment “as to how HMP Birmingham descended into appalling, chaotic conditions” between inspections.

He said the challenges still facing the prison were “huge” and the recommendations remained in place.

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HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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Toilets in cells are often unscreened

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HM Inspectorate of Prisons

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Inspectors said they found flooded and damaged cells

The prison’s independent monitoring board said some of the report’s criticisms were linked to part of the jail being opened too quickly after a riot in December 2016 because of “commercial pressures” and a rise in inmates.

“Re-opening without CCTV on those wings, and with various services not fully functioning and with limited access to education facilities did not assist in provision of a safe stable environment for the men in the prison,” chairman Roger Swindells said.

He said it was “now the time to allow the governor the space to focus on the improvements needed”.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said decisive action had been taken to improve safety and conditions and a thorough investigation had helped to understand the causes, and prevent a similar situation happening again.

A “close eye” was being kept on progress, he added.

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